Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Friederich’

Why I Am NOT a Veg*n

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Recently, on a vegan forum, I commented on the use of the term “vegetarian”  or “veg*n” rather than “vegan” while promoting animal rights.  It seemed to unleash a storm of criticism and ad hominem attacks: “Someone is VERY NEW….,”  ”so fundamentalist in nature,”  ”is there ANY evidence base whatsoever…? ”  My comment was in response to the posting of a Huffington Post article by Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), as well as a suggestion to develop the inclusive “veg*n” culture on the same forum.  Mr. Friederich has stated before that he no longer advocates in vegan tee shirts, because people respond better to the vegetarian message. That may be, but it is not a message that will help animals. In fact, it may even create more suffering for the animals. How can an animal advocate promote the dairy industry?  I think of the abuse of babies, little newborn calves; and mothers who are forced into servitude of being milk machines, with distended udders, infected and dragging the ground.  Then there are all those newborn chicks ground alive in massive machines because they cannot lay eggs.  THAT is something for animal advocates to support?

The message Mr. Friederich was giving was that it is indefensible to eat meat. Unfortunately, his last  line reads,

Put another way: If we believe that people should try to protect the environment, OR we believe that we should try not to cause people to starve OR we oppose cruelty to animals, the only ethical diet is a vegetarian one.

Wrong. This following many salient points in Friederich’s article is so disappointing.  Why is there such a great fear of the word “veganism?”  It is a simple word, much more simple and clear than “vegetarianism.”  There is so much ambiguity in the term vegetarian that it leaves people thinking giving up meat for dairy products will somehow be less cruel. Even if one is focusing solely on the dietary aspects of veganism, then why not support incremental veganism? At least doing so would leave a clear impression in the minds of the audience that veganism is the goal, not vegetarianism.

Mr. Friederich has another contradiction or two on his hands. It is difficult to be accepted as someone who values animal life while working for an organization that kills a higher proportion of animals in their “shelter” than most other shelters. It is also an organization that owns stock and profits from animal agriculture, gives awards to slaughter house designers, and uses some questionable tactics which diminishes the level of dialogue regarding the significance of animal rights.  Again, so disappointing. One young animal rights advocate, Beckah Sheeler, recently posted on the site Animal Writes an article titled, PETA: A Hurdle for Vegan Advocacy:

What we are faced with is the split between abolitionists and welfarists, and this will always exist; however, (as cliche the saying as it may be) with the amount of power Peta has, comes a great amount of responsibility, meaning the lives and welfare of animals, the planet, and the indirect meals able to be fed to the hungry due to this lifestyle, are resting in its hands. Bruce Friedrich, VP of Peta, also has stated in a recent post that being an absolutist is the worst way to attract people to this cause. The members of Peta should, of course, not give up their strong convictions of remaining not only meat free, but egg and dairy free, but being that Peta is so big, I believe that it is the organization’s responsibility, with all of its money, resources, and recognition, to advocate in such a way that helps the most amount of animals being that this is its perceived cause.

Ms. Sheeler then goes on to support widening the appeal rather than clarifying the message that PETA spreads.  However, Dan Cudahy, on his blog Unpopular Vegan Essays, reports on the failure of such tactics that are contradictory at the root (from the article PETA: A Corporate Tangle of Contradictions):

PETA’s contradictions in philosophy, rhetoric, and activities – which have led to profound public confusion and fortification of the utilitarian-welfarist status quo that has been in existence since Jeremy Bentham – have been a barrier to progress in advancing animal rights, and will continue to be a barrier as long as they continue as an animal welfare organization.

For a clear look at the problematic nature of the confusion in such welfarist rhetoric, Professor Gary Francione states in a post on his blog, Animal Rights: The Abolionist Approach (Some Comments on Vegetarianism as a Gateway to Veganism):

It is clear: if you explain that there is no distinction between flesh and other animal products and why we should go vegan, and the person with whom you are talking cares about the issue, she will either (1) go vegan immediately; or (2) go vegan in stages; or (3) not go vegan and adopt some version of vegetarianism (or “happy” meat/product consumption). But she will at least understand that veganism is the aspiration toward which to work. She will understand that the line between flesh and other products is entirely arbitrary. If you maintain that going vegetarian is morally meaningful and that there is a distinction between flesh and other animal products, then you increase the chances that her progress toward veganism will be impeded.

In other words, you do not need to advocate vegetarianism. It is completely unnecessary, morally meaningless, and, as a practical matter, it impedes transition to veganism.

While I appreciate the sincere motives of individuals like Mr. Friederich and do not challenge them, it does seem important to continue looking at the tactics of the animal rights movement. This is very different than disparaging individuals.  I fully admit to many shortcomings and work on them; I have my own blind spots. Assuming that all animal advocates sincerely want what is in the best interest of nonhuman animals rather than promotion of their individual animal organizations, then looking critically at tactics and contradictions that may become barriers (Dan Cudahy) or hurdles (Beckah Sheeler) or impediments (Gary Francione) would seem a positive way of helping advocates learn to help animals achieve true rights as living, feeling beings. While listening to a podcast today, I heard someone interrupt a speaker discussing vegetarianism and interject “a lacto-ovo vegetarian — that is pretty much the same thing as a vegan.”  No, no, no.

Another way of stating this was posted by Tim Gier in an article titled, Is Half A Loaf Better Than None?

If you do intentionally participate in the subjugation of nonhuman animals, it does not matter that your participation is infrequent, or irregular, or occasional. Whenever you eat the flesh of a nonhuman animal, a life is ended for your pleasure, and for nothing else. The same is true whenever you wear the skin of another as clothing, or you patronize the zoos and circuses that cage others for life, or you support the medical, scientific or commercial experimentation on others as well.  Cutting back on those things, while better than not, still amounts to participating in them. There is no “half loaf.”

By spreading vegetarian education rather than vegan education, we collaborate in the subjugation (however unintentionally) of nonhuman animals.  The baseline is veganism. The fact that it is not immediately appealing for 100% of all people everywhere is not the point.  Veganism is the goal. It can be incrementally achieved, but it remains the goal. To ask for anything less, anything with wider appeal, anything that appears to be a more popular message, is to sell out the rights of animals. Want to make veganism more popular? Start by talking about it.

Flexitarian, Fanatical, or Fair?

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

A recent article in The Daily World suggested that we “learn flexibility with meat eating.”  The scenario posited was this: imagine you have decided to go vegetarian, have tossed out all meat, poultry and fish, and stocked up on plant foods. Then you are invited out to a romantic steak dinner. Do you throw your ethics out the window or decline the invitation?  According to proponents of flexitarianism, you can hold on to you ethics and your steak by being flexitarian.  For anyone who is an omnivore, this might seem reasonable.  But the real kicker for vegans who care about animals is this: Bruce Friederich, Vice President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is right there saying:

“If people influenced by health consequently cut back on fish and meat consumption, that helps animals. If two people cut their meat in half, it helps as much as one person going completely vegetarian.”*

Suddenly, Flexitarianism now has the PeTA stamp of approval, so it must be ethical, right?  First of all, vegetarianism does not improve the situation for animals; in fact, it may exacerbate things. How many newborn chicks die for the eggs, and how many babies (calves) die for the milk, cheese and yogurt that a vegetarian consumes?  Then there is the horrific life of a dairy animal, which includes rape, long hours of standing, mastitis, and hugely enlarged udders which become encrusted with sores.  If you have ever seen a video of those newborn calves taken from their mothers, you are not likely to ever forget it. And then there is the ultimate trip to the abattoir for the calf and mother alike, of course. Telling the public that going vegetarian or flexitarian helps animals sends a very muddled message.

This seems to be a new position for PeTA, whose director of research said in a Newsweek article circa 2009:

“Given the environmental, cruelty and health impact of a meat-based diet, going vegan is best, going vegetarian is good, and being a flexitarian is like smoking two packs of cigarettes instead of ten, beating one pig down the slaughter ramp instead of two, and pouring a pint of gasoline down a drain instead of pouring down a gallon.”**

Friederich recently posted a comment that he was tossing out his vegan tee shirts because the vegetarian ones were so much more popular.  I would suggest if Mr. Friederich is concerned about popularity, then he is right to do whatever is broad-based. But if he believes in veganism and believes the animals deserve better than this, then he is very misguided.  Sending mixed messages to the public does not help animals. It just lowers the bar on what is considered “ethical.”

Mark Bittman, noted author of Food Matters suggests much the same. After all, it is just too hard to go vegan, right? Usually those making that statement have never even tried; they are looking for an easy way out. But it is no easy way for the animals that must endure horrendous lives of illness, discomfort, pain, and misery. It does not help those that must suffer the terror and callous treatment at the end of the line at the slaughterhouse. And the truth is, there are thousands upon thousands of vegans who beg to differ: we find it extremely easy to be vegan. For most of us, one bit of information about the lives of animals, one video of the slaughterhouse, and we were done. It was easy, because every time we think of animal products, we see those images and we refuse to budge. We will NOT participate.


Earlier this year, Wayne Pacelle offered the following:

“It doesn’t take an all-or-nothing approach to make a major impact, and giving customers more meat-free meal choices will improve health, reduce the impact of global warming, and help animals,” Pacelle said.***

Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, is not known for taking all-or-nothing approaches to protecting animals. HSUS has owned stock in some of the worst animal exploitative industries, allowing them to profit from the consumption and slaughter of animals. This fact alone weakens any moral stance Mr. Pacelle could take.  Coupled with the fact that many if not most HSUS members consume animal products themselves, this appears to be one very flexible animal protection organization: for some of the animals, some of the time. While Mr. Pacelle is himself a vegan, he must as CEO of a large animal welfare organization protect the donations which come is to the tune of millions of dollars per year.

Standing in opposition to child abuse, human trafficking, rape, incest and domestic violence somehow does not make a person fanatical. Standing in opposition to abject cruelty and torture of animals does. Call me fanatical, but all this talk of flexibility and flexitarianism offends me, coming from supposed animal rights folks. Sounds like a lack of spine to me.

*Learning flexibility with meat eating,” Daily World, July 14, 2010

**”Part-time Vegetarians”, Newsweek, September 29, 2008, by Karen Springen

***“Compass Launches Landmark ‘Flexitarian’ Initiative”, HSUS website